Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View
In the debate I did with James White, (Now on Youtube) I wanted to provide a simple way to address some complex issues of interpretation relating to baptism, so I named three fallacies that (I believe) attend the Believer’s Baptism view. This post addresses the third fallacy: Baptizing the Invisible Church. This fallacy is thinking that by “believer’s baptism” one baptizes only “believers” or “regenerate persons” or only those that are “saved.” On the other hand, Baptists accuse paedobaptists of baptizing “unbelievers” and “unregenerate” individuals (see my previous fallacy discussion, Vipers in Diapers).
Baptists, like Dr. White, continually engage in an equivocation. They will say they baptize “believers” by which they mean people who have been saved. But when pressed they specify they mean, “professors” or “confessors” (i.e., those who have the capacity to somehow verbally confess some declarations of their belief and do so). When such Baptists go on the defensive they will say things like, “Where in the Bible is any ‘unbelieving, unrepentant person’ ever baptized?” – then a quick qualification follows: “Where in the Bible is any ‘unbelieving, unrepentant person’ ever knowingly baptized by the apostles?” This statement is almost verbatim from Dr. White in the debate.
The “knowingly baptizing an unbeliever” qualification guards the view from the case of Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9ff). Simon S’s case is unique in the Bible on two accounts: 1) He is the only person who was basically cursed and called to repent by Peter after he was baptized. “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God” (Acts 8:21). Before the Spirit was conferred by the apostles (in this unique Samaritan example), he was excluded from Christ. 2) He, as it turns out, is the only named person baptized (post Pentecost) that could have had children whom were not baptized. Of the nine individuals baptized and individually identified, six are (very arguably) household cases, the Eunuch and Saul/Paul do not have children, and that leaves Simon. (For a proof of Gaius being a household case see my talk here (about 14 minutes into it). Therefore, of all the pericope’s on baptism, Simon the Sorcerer is only person who could have had children whom were not baptized. That is why I have emphasized in the debate and other presentations, that Simon S is the best example of the Baptist view. He alone is the only non-household example that might have conceivable had a household/children.
Baptists commonly talk as though every baptismal example in the NT is of an adult, apart from his/her household, and then there are these exceptional cases where a household consists of mature individuals who through a revival are all of age and all of them individually confess the faith. As if, each of them “walk down the aisle” and lo and behold an entire family came on the 12th verse of Just as I Am and their household-ness is strictly anomalous, since in the new covenant it is an individual choice. The facts do not support this point of view. Six of nine individuals named are arguably household cases (at least five are indisputable, leaving aside Gaius) and the others don’t have children, leaving Simon. Simon is the best example of the Baptist precedent. He could have had a family, but the household is not mentioned. That is not true of any other individual identified.
Now back to the main point, “Baptizing the Invisible Church,” Simon’s case is also instructive here. Acts 8:12 states, “Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip.” Yet he turns out to have “no part” in Christ. I realize this example creates some problems. “How could he have believed? Did he lose his salvation?” If we take the text in a direct manner, we could say: he believed, but his belief was temporary and not rooted (Matt. 13:7). Like those who believed in Jesus in John 2, they followed for the wrong reasons. This becomes evident in the case of Simon.
Stepping away from the particulars, look at the big picture of this example: a baptized man believed temporarily, was drawn toward the power of the apostles, yet he fell away and is condemned. What can this teach if not that we do not baptize only “invisible Church members” or only the elect or only regenerate people or true “believers”? Even when the apostolic legates (Philip) do the baptism, the baptism of “believers” does not guarantee fidelity and the regeneration of the baptized. If this is the case with Spirit-led Philip, then no one should presume today.
The view, the “New Covenant only includes regenerate people” (based on a misreading of Jer. 31:31-34, Heb. 8), really amounts to assuming we should only baptize the regenerate. But since we cannot on any account actually do that (and neither could the apostles), then this view cannot be the right basis or theology of our practice. The actual Reformed Baptist practice is, “only regenerate individuals are in the new covenant, therefore (ergo) we only baptize professors.” But professors are not the same as regenerate individuals. The argument is illogical. If the only people to receive baptism (a sign of membership) must be known to be regenerate, then we are in a hopeless practical and pastoral situation. However, the Baptist view fudges or equivocates. They talk the talk of “regeneration,” but then walk the walk of mere “profession” of faith.
Practically, most Baptists baptize young children upon a simple profession. The Reformed Baptist, rejecting this, await the teen years to greater assurance of knowing the truth of their profession. I really tried to press this point on Dr. White in the debate. Something like, “so little children are inauthentic, but teens are honest?” He did not like that line of questioning. Well, at 51, I can only say, the “age argument” on authenticity is just folly. My goodness, I was baptized on profession at 10 (after being shown the film, The Burning Hell, let’s hope that’s not on Youtube). At 16 I had a dozen contradictory views of spiritual things flashing in my head. I think I was more sincere at a younger age, actually.
For my well-meaning Baptist brethren, I would suggest only baptizing those over 50, but it would be better to wait until the hour of death for the greatest sincerity and credibility. I want to advocate, not for believer’s baptism, but for “die-er’s baptism.”
Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View
In the debate I did with James White, I wanted to provide a simple way to address some complex issues of interpretation relating to baptism, so I named three fallacies that (I believe) attend the Believer’s Baptism view. This post addresses the second fallacy: The Vipers in Diapers Fallacy.
I am indebted to Pastor Mickey Schneider (the founder of the PCA!) for this name. He suggested that the Southern Presbyterians (Dabney/Thornwell, etc.) believed that covenant children were nothing more than “vipers in diapers.” I have not researched this to confirm their specific views, but it sounds consistent with what I know of them. Certainly many Presbyterians (past and present) hold a much less robust doctrine of covenant children than I do. In the film, A River Runs Through It, the Presbyterian minister said that Methodists are “just Baptists who can read.” Dabney and Thornwell may just be Baptists with a theology. (Don’t take offense, my 6th Great Grandfather was the first Methodist preacher in America, Robert Allen Strawbridge and I was born’d and reared a Southern Baptist.)
The Vipers in Diapers fallacy assumes the status of a covenant child is the same as a pagan adult or an apostate adult. Calvinists believe that total depravity applies to all, but this doctrine must be harmonized with grace. I feel sure that I still have “total depraved” and yet, I am saved. For me to deny that I am in Christ, though I am painfully aware of my sin, is not faithfulness, but faithlessness. The only hope of my sanctification is accepting both sin as a reality in my life and grace through Christ alone. Applying this to covenant babies is the confusion of stamping the model of adult conversion on covenant infants. While I am expressive and conscious of my sins and the grace I have received, children are neither. The right stance for Calvinists who embrace paedo-inclusion is not to deny our children’s depravity (that is hardly a matter to debate), nor to deny that grace in all its extravagant goodness applies to them. I think it is a failure of faith (in covenant promises) to be agnostic on our infant children’s status.The right posture is to believe with all our hearts that they have received the fullest measure of the grace of God in the womb and then raise them with the bold faith that they are the Lord’s. This is not presumption if we are “grabbing them by their baptism” at every moment of their sinfulness. God may be both kinder than you think and harsher than you can imagine.
I have heard many a Baptist defense of “believer’s only” baptism which began with John’s Baptism and argued it excludes children on the grounds of requiring individualistic repentance. So Matthew 3:7 says, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?'” Many Baptist defenses take such texts to exclude children. But – Is this text addressing the children of the faithful? Are these vipers babies? Or, are the adult apostates? The answer is obvious. However, this text and those like it are pressed into the Baptist cause by saying this is a radical change in the new covenant. Whereas in the OT children were included, but now they are excluded because only repentant “believers” may be admitted to the covenant and the covenant rites (baptism). This not only overlooks the whole covenant purpose (God to you and your children), but it is just plain false with respect to the Old Testament. Do we not find similar admonitions from Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and every other OT writer? Calling fleshly Israelites to repent of their apostasy is hardly a new covenant phenomenon! John was not inventing a new mode of ministry by calling for their repentance; neither does John explicitly exclude children. There is not a word about children in John’s preaching, except the expectation that he would turn their hearts to their fathers. This cannot be consistent with the Baptist cause. Would it not be a better hermeneutic to get our views of children from texts that address children? On this the New Testament is not silent.
1) In the first case, Jesus was a child and Matthew’s first dozen uses of the word “child” (teknon) refer to the Child, Jesus. I doubt Baptists will be converted by this point, but it is very strong evidence that simply being a child is not the same as being a “devil” or “heathen” or “unregenerate.” Along these same lines, in Luke we are told that John was filled with the Spirit in the womb and that he did a holy dance as an embryo. Since John was least in the kingdom, what can this mean except that in the new age to come under Christ, myriads more embryos will leap for joy in knowing their Lord. And so they do.
2) Jesus fed not only adults, but children (Matt. 14:21). This reflection (to use a Calvinism) may be “spat upon” by Baptists, but he who has ears, let him hear. The Bread of Life which was united to the person of Christ in thanksgiving and then distributed to the 5000 men, was no less given to the thousands of children present. It seems likely that Jesus was more concerned to feed the children than the adults. The Church today ought to feed the children.
3) The obvious texts that address children as part of the kingdom refute the “vipers in diapers” thesis. The most critical term here is “toioutos” –
Matthew 18:3–5 – “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “And whoever receives one such (toioutos) child in My name receives Me;
Luke 18-15-17 – And they were bringing even their babies (brephos) to Him so that He might touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16 But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such (toiouton) as these. 17 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.
The most persuasive Baptist defender, Paul K. Jewett writes, “When the Jews cried out against Paul (Acts 22:22), ‘Away with such a one (toiouton)!’ they could hardly have meant, Away with someone like this man Paul.” (Baptist Defense: Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace)
These texts plainly teach that “such” (toioutos) children belong to Christ’s kingdom. This implies that the children of the faithful (i.e., those bringing their children to Christ) are subjects of the kingdom and thus in a different status than adult apostates or pagans.
4) If nothing has been convincing thus far, we have the apostolic word which explicitly teaches that children of believers are in a different status: 1 Cor 7:14 – “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified (hagiozo perf. tense) through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified (hagiozo) through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy (hagios pl. “saints”).” The Baptist scholar, AT Robertson, noted that the sanctification of the spouses means that “the marriage is holy and need not be set aside.” True enough. However, what Jewett (Baptist) and others confirm is that the children’s hagios is “covenantal” holiness. Exactly! Jewett concedes that the children of believers are part of the “saints” (54); that the children of believers are in the kingdom (60); that household proselyte baptism most likely existed concurrent with Acts (64); that circumcision and baptism are both signs of entrance to the covenant community (86); that circumcision and baptism are both “seals” (86); that the “two signs, as outward rites, symbolize the same inner reality” (89); that baptism “occupies the place of circumcision in the New Testament” (89); that “circumcision means ‘essentially’ what baptism means in the New Testament” (96); and that the sanctification of children (1Co 7:14) is due to the “marriage covenant” as in the Jewish/Mishna sources (136).
It is a fallacy to view the children of believers as pagans or apostates. They have a different status in the Old Testament, surely. But the New Testament explicitly teaches that they are in a separate category from pagans or unregenerate apostates.
This talk is from a conference held at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Southern Baptist) on the topic of Infants and Children in the Church featuring Five Views: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Baptist. Rev. Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D. presented the Reformed view. See the Outline (pdf) for the visuals and notes. The audio is available here MP3 and the PDF of the presentation (keynote slides) is available in the OUTLINE of the item (PDF).
Three Fallacies in the Believer’s Baptism View
In the debate I did with James White, I wanted to provide a simple way to address some complex issues of interpretation relating to baptism, so I named three fallacies that (I believe) attend the Believer’s Baptism view. This is a post to elaborate on the first of them.
The Eunuch Fallacy – assuming that adult conversion examples/commands settle the case of the children of believers. Why weren’t the eunuch’s children baptized? (umm, well, he’s got no) . . .
The interactions with Baptists of which I am aware assume without argumentation or cogent proof that a command or an example of adult baptism proves that children/infants should not be baptized. This is one of the most significant issues in addressing the subjects of baptism. Is it really true that a command to “believe and be baptized” or an example of an adult’s profession of faith prior to baptism (like the Eunuch, Acts 8) (of itself) proves the exclusion of children in baptism? I think there are many reasons to rethink this.
If children were never ever included in any biblical signs or covenants, etc., then one might assume only those that have the capacity to confess the faith could be baptized. But we have thousands of years of the inclusion of children in signs of covenant prior to this. We have an entire theology of the generational promises (Gen. 18:19; Ex. 34:7). In the case of circumcision we have exactly the same kind of sign inclusion: adults coming into the (old) covenant submitted themselves to Yahweh, but their infants were included (without conscious consent). So the Baptist case depends on a very important assumption: the commands and example to believe and be baptized actually exclude children/infants from participation. But could someone please show this from the Bible?
We all agree about adult converts—they must confess their faith prior to baptism. Baptists and paedobaptists disagree about how to deal with the infant (and young) children of Christians. There is no explicit example of “infant baptism” in the Bible. Baptists also should admit: neither is there an explicit case of a Christian’s child who grows up and is baptized on profession. The Bible does not explicitly address the baptism of children either way. This is a fact. This lack of an explicit basis should be acknowledged on both sides. We cannot settle the case by appealing to an explicit passage in the Bible which tells us this child was baptized or this child was not baptized. The cases of adult baptisms do not automatically settle the question.
The Baptist case rests on the assumption that “believe and be baptized” actually means “only those with the capacity to consciously confess their belief are to be baptized.” To make this assumption is a fallacy since it assumes adult capacity excludes children/infants. This was not true from Genesis to Malachi (at least). We have an entire world of biblical history prior to new covenant baptism which include commands/actions of adults as well as the inclusion of infant children. Circumcision is one example and many other rites like passover, and sacrificial meals and acts in the tabernacle/temple also include children.
I would enjoy seeing a Baptist start on the “level playing field” and then make the argument, e.g., acknowledging that the Bible does not explicitly address the baptism of children either way (infant or growing up to profess). By the way, no Baptist I know has thus made this admission which is not a matter of interpretation, but plain fact: no believers’ baptism of Christian’s child is recorded in the Bible. Could someone please argue the Baptist case from the Bible, rather than make fallacious assumptions about commands/examples of adults?
How would one argue this Baptist case? Let me suggest several way to overcome the Eunuch Fallacy:
One could argue that the Old Testament is in no way authoritative about anything and become a Marcionite, thus dismissing the OT god (sorry, I just could not resist). Seriously though, I really do have concerns when I hear Baptists routinely make “semi-marcionite” arguments that only the NT is relevant to the discussion of baptism. Let me be specific: listen to the White-Strawbridge 2015. Who refers to all the Bible as authoritative on baptism and who excludes part of the Bible as relevant? As a matter of fact, both 1 Cor. 10:1-4 and Heb. 9:10 refer explicitly to “baptisms” in the OT. Therefore, it is quite wrong to exclude the OT conceptions from the issue of baptism.
One could argue that in the new covenant no children are included in salvation, let alone baptism. I was moved early in my adopting paedobaptism by the beautiful words of the Heidelberg Catechism (73) on this point:
“Infants as well as adults are included in God’s covenant and people, and they, no less than adults, are promised deliverance from sin through Christ’s blood
and the Holy Spirit who produces faith. Therefore, by baptism, the sign of the covenant, they too should be incorporated into the Christian church
and distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.”
As this doctrinal summary states, children, “no less than adults, are promised” the salvation accomplished in Christ. This is surely a comfort to all who have lost children in miscarriages and infancy. I remember a kind of epiphany about this (circa 1997). Children can have salvation. Baptism represents salvation. Children should get baptism.
One could argue that in the new covenant we are agnostic about the status of children (in salvation) and so we wait to purify the church with only those that are regenerate prior to baptism. (I used to hold this view. I think this is the substance of the “new covenant” Reformed Baptist view). But baptizing those who consciously profess faith prior to baptism is clearly not the same as baptizing those who are actually regenerate prior to baptism. It is not as though all Baptist churches have “only regenerate members” and paedobaptist churches sadly include unregenerate people. We can only deal “covenantally” with people. We do not have access to the “invisible/elect/regenerate” church roll to know who to baptize and who not to baptize. (In another post I will address the fallacy, “Baptizing the invisible Church.”)
One could argue that in the new covenant, though children may be saved, baptism (like certain priestly rites of the OT, e.g., ordination) only applies to adults/mature because it is not about salvation but setting a person apart for service, e.g., the “staff uniform of the new covenant.” (This is the view of Michael Bull). But is this the explicit teaching about baptism in the Bible? “Baptism now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21). This verse must be explained (and the covenantal approach makes the most sense on it), but let me assure you that it is in the Bible. It is pretty hard to reconcile 1 Pet. 3:21 and about 20 other verses on baptism with the view that baptism only refers to an elite group of those in the Church. Rather, most Baptists and paedobaptists agree, baptism admits a person to the Church in a covenantal rite.
I am sure there are more defenses of the Baptist view (on the point of the Eunuch Fallacy) than I have represented in this post. So please write me and I will try to interact with it. WGS at WordMp3.com
I interviewed Michael Bull on his defense of Believer’s Baptism from “all of the Bible.” This is not a “new testament only” defense of the Baptist view, but a reading of a Scripture with a rich conception of the typologies, patterns, and architectural content of the Old Testament. The Audio is Available Here.
Michael Bull (MB) posted a critique of my Infant Baptism teaching (booklet and video), see below. (I reply after each point). In beginning this discussion, I really appreciate Mike’s graphical work and his writing. He has drawn from sources like the Biblical Theology of James B. Jordan and we worked together to publish JBJ’s Garden of God Mp3 CD and the Revelation Mp3 DVD a few years ago available here. Hopefully, future debates on this subject will be between people who argue from “all of the Bible” (like Mike) for believer’s baptism vs people that argue from “all of the Bible” for infant baptism. In other words, no other Baptist has ever even engaged with material such as the following (from You and Your Household):
“From Eden flowed rivers. There are springs in the patriarch narratives. Israel (including children) passes through the Red Sea. A laver is at the entrance of the tabernacle for priestly cleansing. Joshua leads Israel across the Jordan into the Land. In the temple of Solomon an ocean and basins of water on chariots create a stylized river flowing out to cleanse the nations. Ezekiel and Zechariah see visions of rivers flowing out in the new covenant (Zec. 14:8). Washings in the tabernacle, as well as crossing the Red Sea are explicitly called baptisms (Heb. 9:10, 1 Cor. 10). There are many references to baptism(s) in the Old Testament” (GS).
So I am grateful for the chance to interact with a critique that actually is drawn from what the Bible says about water!
MB: a) The entire point of the baptism of the eunuch was that physical offspring was no longer important since the Seed had come. He was no longer barred from the Tabernacle because he himself was a Tabernacle of the Spirit, and his offspring would be born by his testimony (“out of his belly”). Why does Gregg not mention this? He only sees what he is looking for: physical descendants.
GS: I agree the eunuch is a case of the extension of access. I believe I say this in the video presentation and refer to the Isaiah prophecy (Is. 56:3, not 52 as I have erroneously said a few times). “Nor let the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.'” But I have pointed out that taking the eunuch case as how to settle what to do with believers’ children is a fallacy. Most Baptists continually commit the “eunuch fallacy” – assuming that adult conversion examples/commands settle the case of the children of believers. Here’s the challenge: show that “only” adults (maturish people) are baptized.
MB: b) Rivers are territorial boundaries, including the Jordan, certainly, but NT baptisms continued after John’s Jordan “conquest” baptism. What does this mean? And why is there no mention of children at John’s baptism (or any other) since the OT makes such a point of it every time? Because baptism sorted the true Jews from the Jews. This can only be done on an individual basis, since it concerns each heart’s circumcision.
GS: On the rivers point, the Colin Brown thesis on crossing the Jordan is consistent with a wide range of people (including children) (“crowds”) crossing. It is unlikely that John individually, physically immersed all the people “in Jerusalem, all of Judea, and the district around the Jordan” (Matt. 3:5-6). In the cases of the other baptisms, they may well have been collective (crossings) and ritual cleansings with confession (adult men, probably). The claim of MB that these baptisms amount to “sorting” true Jews assumes adult individualism. But this could have simply been a faithful head of household leading his household. In any case, men leading their homes are required to raise their children “in the Lord” (Eph. 6, Col. 3). To assume children are excluded is what I have called The Vipers in Diapers Fallacy – assuming that the status of a covenant child is the same as a pagan adult or an apostate adult. That is not the way the Bible treats the children of the faithful in the OT or NT (1Cor. 7:14).
MB: c) The New Covenant has no boundaries, so this Jordan baptism was a warning to Israel. Baptism must be something else, some other kind of boundary, unless the Church is just an Abrahamic body still concerned with fruitfulness of Land and womb (Genesis 3, 15).
GS: OK, but the point of the emerging (Prophets’ vision) of water flowing out of the visionary temple (e.g., Ez. 47) is the baptism of the nations (Mt. 28:18-20). Nations include children. I may be missing the point of MB, but in the new covenant people still have children and they still live on the earth. The way I would read the Abrahamic covenant is that it was about restoration (from the fall) and in the NT we see that it is for all the cosmos (Rom. 4:13), including children (Eph. 6:1-4 “on the earth”). I have written on this elsewhere, regarding the Land Promise.
MB: d) The stuff on the Tabernacle is great, but I don’t think Gregg mentions that the laver was only for mediators: priests and sacrificial substitutes. Once again, he only sees what he is looking for. New Covenant baptism is a delegation of sacrificial authority. Jesus’ lambs were not little children but grown believers like Peter who became willing martyrs. Even within Israel, the heavenly water was not for everyone, only for mediators (see Exodus 24 for instance). Baptism is a delegation of sacrificial authority, so “infant baptism” is a contradiction in terms. It is not for infants but for those who represent them before God, and represent God to them.
GS: On the laver and “washings” of the tabernacle, we might not be disagreeing here. But let me make a few points: certainly the priests are to wash, and be washed: Ex 30:21 – “So they shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they will not die.” But the sacrifices are ritually washed too; e.g., for the Ascension offering/burnt offering, “Its entrails, however, and its legs he shall wash with water” (Lev. 1:9). I have written more about the way sacrifices explain “Union with Christ,” elsewhere. Suffice it to say that many of these baptized sacrifices are representative of not just the individual worshiper, but the worshiper’s household, the priesthood (representatively), all of Israel, and in the case of the Feast of Tabernacles (70 Bulls), all of the nations of the world. Clearly children are representatively “washed.” Further, now the “priesthood” is conferred on all that are baptized in the new covenant (see Leithart). As I said in You and Your Household,
“Our new identity is conferred in baptism, even as it was for Israel in the crossing of the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-4). This is all another way of saying what Paul states definitively. We are “all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).
MB: e) Israel’s great “baptisms” were corporate events, but NT baptisms are always individual. Why is this? Could it be that God saves repentant individuals *before* they are qualified to be part of the NC body?
GS: First of all, thank you for reading the OT! Yes. Israel was baptized. Wow, I was beginning to think that Baptists just have an aversion to reading the OT and 1 Cor. 10:1-4. But, as I tried to show, the baptisms of the NT are not, in fact, “individual,” in the sense of excluding the collective household. Let me say it again:
In summary of the actual baptisms, we find the following: (1) The new covenant promise came “to you and your children” (Acts 2:39) at Pentecost. Only men (3000) are said to have been baptized (Acts 2:5, 14, 41). (2) In Samaria “men and women alike” (Acts 8:12) were baptized, including Simon (the apostate Sorcerer). (3) The Ethiopian eunuch (who had no familial household) was baptized (Acts 8:38). (4) Paul (who had no familial household) was baptized (Acts 9:18; cf 1 Cor. 7:7-8). (5) Cornelius’ household was baptized (Acts 10:48, 11:14). (6) Lydia’s household was baptized (Acts 16:15). (7) The Philippian Jailer’s household was baptized (Acts 16:33). (8) Many Corinthians were baptized, including Crispus, Stephanas’ household, and Gaius (Acts 18:8, 1 Cor. 1:14, 16). (9) The disciples of John (adult men) were baptized (Acts 19:5).
These are the facts about who was baptized. From this we learn: of nine people singled-out in the baptism narratives—five had their households baptized (Cornelius, the Jailer, Lydia, Crispus [inferred], Stephanas), two had no households for obvious reasons (eunuch & Paul). That leaves Simon, who actually turned out to be an unbeliever, and Gaius listed with Crispus, whom Paul baptized (1 Cor. 1:14).
This does not look like a change to “individual” reception of the sign of inclusion. While individuals receive the application of water, it is not as though the reception of this looks very different from the household inclusion in the previous covenant administrations. Every “individual” was also circumcised. And every “individual” was baptized in crossing the Red Sea.
MB: f) Why is the total immersion of Jonah never, never, ever mentioned, especially since Jesus said His death and resurrection (pictured in His own immersion) were the sign of Jonah (the dove)? Or was Jonah merely “sprinkled” inside the fish? If the mode of baptism doesn’t matter, then there is no difference between the life giving dew and the breath-extinguishing Great Flood. Huge blind spot.
GS: This point suggests that “immersion” is quite important. But then Paul seems to miss the significance of this in citing Israel’s Baptism (1 Cor. 10). But let me say, once again, thank you for reading all of the Bible. This is an interesting argument for immersion. I do not object to the mode of immersion. I do object to exclusive immersion. As I said in my presentation, all modes are valid. This is because baptism is the application of water and from all of the Bible we see many ways/modes of baptism. I agree that baptism is a “flood.” But it is also the pouring out of the water from above (e.g., specifically Pentecost). Jonah is a story about a man swallowed up, cast into the sea. He goes down . . .
…to Tarshish, away from the face of the Lord
…to Tarshish, away from the face of the Lord.
And the chiasm communicates the rebellious nature of Jonah’s plunge. But Jesus’ death is not disobedience (as in Jonah’s case). Jonah was chucked “up” (Jon. 2:10). Jesus (as true Israel) and Jonah show the story of the nation (Hos. 6:2). Israel was baptized into the sea of the Gentiles; but came out and was finally delivered/vomited back into the Land. This will result in the increasing knowledge of God (in Assyria, Babylon, Persia), the baptism of the nations (Is. 52, Ez. 47). “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:39-40). This is partly a reproof of Israel (e.g., you are like that generation that went into exile). So, I agree, that’s a great argument for immersion as a mode. But if you were to say baptism is not baptism apart from immersion, then the Bible would contradict that (1Cor. 10, Heb. 9, Acts 2).
MB: g) The animals were included as part of the household in every OT event used for support. Why not now? Because the sacrifices have ended, and God no longer requires the firstborn of the offspring, which is what the sign of circumcision (and Passover) was all about – not a sign upon infants but a sign upon males. It is finished. Confusing circumcision with baptism misses the entire point of each sign.
GS: Ok you got me on this one. Perhaps we should baptize cats in the new covenant. But on the relation of circumcision and baptism, I think I have a pretty strong case. Circumcision represented the work of the Holy Spirit, the circumcision of the heart. Stephen drew upon a very deep stream of the Biblical waters when he said to his persecutors, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did” (Acts 7:51). This meaning of circumcision is very evident in many Old Testament passages (Lev. 26:41, Jer. 9:26, Ez. 44:7, 44:9, Deut. 10:16, 30:6, Jer. 4:4). The very promise of the new covenant included this, “The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants” (Deut. 30:6). Paul, who held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen, learned this too (perhaps from Stephen). It permeates virtually all of his epistles (Rom. 2:29, 4:11, 1 Cor. 7:19, Gal. 5:6, 6:15, Eph. 2:11-12, Phil. 3:3, Col. 2:11-12, 3:11). The reality behind physical circumcision is circumcision “which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom. 2:29). Circumcision signifies the renewal of the heart toward God, just as baptism does.
MB: h) Total failure to describe what each Covenant sign actually meant and why they are different (i.e. Passover was about the firstborn; the last supper was about the firstborn from the dead. Big difference but totally overlooked).
GS: Ok this is a great suggestion for a new paper/booklet: What all the signs of covenant in the Bible signify. However the subject of my writing/speaking was simply a demonstration that the Bible authorizes infant baptism. I believe I addressed the subject with the relevant material. I can’t say everything about every detail, but I don’t think an examination of the meaning of each sign will imply that “now little children are excluded from baptism.”
MB: i) If baptism is about physical descendants, how is it any different to circumcision? The New Testament places no importance upon physical offspring as the “mechanism” of the Covenant. Tribal genealogies are not sanctified but eradicated in baptism. Once again, Gregg misses the point with his way-too-broad “Covenant” paintbrush. Covenant theology is great, but New Covenant theology is greater.
GS: I would put this point under the category that the NT or New Covenant excludes children. But does it? This is my most succinct answer:
Consider these new covenant prophecies. Are the children of believers included in the explicit and repeated new covenant promises?
The very first word about the new covenant was in Deuteronomy 30:6:
Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live . . .
Jeremiah alludes to the above Deuteronomy passage throughout his prophecy. He emphasizes the inclusion of children in the new covenant promise:
Jeremiah 31:1: “At that time,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.’”
Jeremiah 31:17: [Though Rachel weeps for her children (destroyed in captivity), when they return] “‘there is hope for your future,’ declares the LORD, ‘and your children shall return to their own territory.’”
Notice verse 36 of the classic text of the new covenant, the offspring of covenant participants are explicitly included:
Jeremiah 31:33-37: “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” . . . If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also shall cease From being a nation before Me forever. 37 Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” declares the LORD.”
Jeremiah 32:37-40: “Behold, I will gather them out of all the lands to which I have driven them in My anger . . . And they shall be My people, and I will be their God; 39 and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them. 40 “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.
Jeremiah 33:22-26: “As the host of heaven cannot be counted, and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me . . . 26 then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.”
Other Old Testament prophecies about the coming age of the new covenant are equally clear the children of believers are included:
Ezekiel 37:24-26: David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd . . . . and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them . . .” (NKJV)
Zech. 10:6-9: “And I shall bring them back, Because I have had compassion on them; and they will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God, and I will answer them. 7 “And Ephraim will be like a mighty man, and their heart will be glad as if from wine; Indeed, their children will see it and be glad, Their heart will rejoice in the LORD . . . They will remember Me in far countries, and they with their children will live and come back.
Joel 2:1-29: Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! . . . So there is a great and mighty people; There has never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it To the years of many generations . . . 15 Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, 16 Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants. . . . My people will never be put to shame. 28 “And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy . . .”
Isaiah 44:3: For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants.
Isaiah 54:10-13: Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed . . .13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD, And great shall be the peace of your children.
Isaiah 59:20-21: “And a Redeemer will come to Zion. . . .” My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from now and forever.”
Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. 6 “And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”
In the New Testament, the apostles also repeatedly included the principle of “you and your seed.”
Luke 1:17: “And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Luke 2:49-50: For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. 50 and His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear him.
Acts 2:39: For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.
Acts 3:25: “It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
Acts 13:32-33: “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33 that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus . . .”
Romans 4:13-17: For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith . . . 16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the sight of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.
These texts provide overwhelming and unambiguous Biblical support for the conviction the children of believers are included in the new covenant.
MB: j) The aim of the Great Commission is not an extension of the Abrahamic Covenant. That Covenant – and its division of flesh in circumcision, etc. – had to *die* to be a blessing to all nations. The command to disciple the nations was actually a command to continue in all nations what had begun in one nation, Israel: the preaching of the Gospel and the baptism of converts. It was not a command to extend some kind of watery circumcision across the world. God is only interested in circumcised hearts. Again: Gregg misses the point.
GS: This is not persuasive to me. The Abrahamic covenant is relevant to the new covenant (see my above paper on the Land Promise). Paul seems to think the Abrahamic covenant is quite relevant (Gal. 3, Rom. 4 and just about everything he wrote). I think we agree that, “The command to disciple the nations was actually a command to continue in all nations what had begun in one nation, Israel.” However, baptism, like circumcision, has a judgment dimension (1 Pet. 3). Colossians 2:11-12: “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” This text is disputed, especially in the meaning of “the circumcision of Christ.” Is this spiritual circumcision/regeneration or something else? It may be that this circumcision “of Christ” is the “cutting off of Christ” on the cross, i.e., His death. Even so, this would still correlate baptism and circumcision, but addressing the cutting off or “death” aspect: circumcision=death, baptism=death. My argument, does not depend on a particular reading of this passage, but rather that there are parallels between circumcision and baptism in their meaning. On the face of it, Paul refers to both here, because there is a similarity (whatever it is in this passage).
MB: k) An earlier one that I missed: Gregg says that not only do we have no explicit infant baptisms in Scripture, we have no instances of a child growing up in a Christian home being baptised. True in one sense, but totally false in another. Timothy grew up in the equivalent of a believing home. So did Nathaniel, the “Jew indeed.” The coming of the Spirit simply gave full access to both Jewish and Gentile believers, erasing the demarcation of offspring (or males). Baptism identified the “true Jew”, the one with the circumcised heart, which could be either Jew or Gentile. Baptism is *not* a wiped down circumcision recycled but basically the same.
GS: MB fails to actually answer the point. I say there are “no instances of a child growing up in a Christian home being baptized.” MB suggests Timothy and Nathanial (?). Good try Mike, but no cigar . . . (Nathan is not even mentioned post-pentecost). Timothy does not qualify for several reasons. 1) We are not told of his baptism (ever). So how can Timothy’s baptism be evidence in the argument? The argument is no “baptism” of a grown-up believers child. 2) We are told that he was a “disciple” (Acts 16:1) and knew the Scripture from “infancy” (2 Tim 3:14). My point stands, despite Baptist claims and confusions, in fact, there are no instances of a child growing up in a Christian home being baptized as a believer in the Bible. MB please refute this point or concede. As I wrote in You and Your Household: “There is no explicit example of infant baptism in the Bible. Baptists also should admit: neither is there an explicit case of a Christian’s child who grows up and is baptized on profession. The Bible does not explicitly address the baptism of children either way. This is a fact. This lack of an explicit basis should be acknowledged on both sides.”
An excerpt from my new booklet: You and Your Household
John the Baptist was to go “in the spirit and power of Elijah” who divided the water of the Jordan (2Kgs. 2:8ff). John “prepared the way” for Jesus. He was “preaching a baptism of repentance” at the Jordan river (Mark 1:4). John was in the wilderness beyond the borders of the Land where they “went out to him” (Mark 1:5). We must call to mind what had happened to Israel in the past to make sense of this.
In the Exodus, Israel “passed (Heb. avar) through the midst of the sea into the wilderness” (Num. 33:8). Paul describes this as a “baptism.” They were “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:2). Crossing the red sea is a “baptism.” Under Joshua, Israel was commanded to “cross (avar) this Jordan, to go in to possess the land” (Josh. 1:11). Due to Moses’ anger, he did not get to “cross” over (Deut. 4:22, 31:2). This “crossing” happens again when Elisha is given a “double portion” of the spirit of Elijah. “Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground” (2 Kgs. 2:8). Then in the exile, Judah was expelled out of the Land, beyond the borders of the Jordan River (1 Chr. 9:1; Josh. 3-4).
In the era just before Jesus came, the Jews wanted to know if the exile was over. On the one hand, they were back “in the Land” from Babylon (at least many were). They had walls, a city and a temple. On the other hand, they were still oppressed by foreign powers (Herod(s) and Rome). Had God returned to Zion in fulfillment of the prophets (e.g., Is. 40:1-10)? Now enter John.
John was “preaching a baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4). This does not mean John was preaching, “You must be immersed.” Rather, given all the history to this point, John was preaching a “baptism” of the renewal of Israel. The baptism he preached showed this. Theologian Colin Brown wrote, “John was organizing a symbolic exodus from Jerusalem and Judea as a preliminary to recrossing the Jordan as a penitent, consecrated Israel in order to reclaim the land in a quasi-reenactment of the return from the Babylonian exile . . . . the purity and quantity of the water were of less significance than the historic, symbolic significance of the Jordan itself as the boundary and point of entry.” Just as Deuteronomy looked to a time of renewal when they “cross the Jordan,” being led by Joshua (Deut. 4:21), so now on the verge of Messiah coming, John was leading them in a symbolic exodus to enter the Land in renewal. The rest of the New Testament draws upon various threads of this “crossing” image in baptism. We are “baptized” into Christ, through death and into resurrection life. We “pass” or “cross” into Him (Rom. 6:3-4, Col. 2:11-12).
In addition to the “crossing,” John may have sprinkled water on people as they passed, as a ritual of cleansing. This is suggested by the words of Jesus about John,“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” (Matt. 11:7). This could be merely metaphorical, but throughout the Bible such branches are used to apply rites of cleansing (Lev. 14). “A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there…” (Num. 19:18). “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Psalms 51:7). It is unlikely that John physically immersed all the people in Jerusalem, all of Judea, and the district around the Jordan” (Matt. 3:5-6).
What about the baptism of Jesus? So, John’s baptism of Jesus involved this renewal of Israel, crossing the Jordan (as before with the Red Sea, Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha) to “manifest” the Anointed One, “Christ” (Jn. 1:31, Ps. 2:2). Hebrews teaches Christ was appointed “by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:10). He “appoints a Son, made perfect forever” (Heb. 7:28). When did this happen? This happened at Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:21, 4:18).
John was qualified to be Levitical priest, as was his father (Luke 1:5). However, John did not do his ritual cleansings at the temple, under the corruption of the Sadducees. Levitical priests were appointed through a ritual washing, an anointing with oil, and vesting (clothing) (Ex. 28:41, Num. 3:3). Jesus was consecrated as a priest by John in the baptismal event (Matt. 3:13-17). I would consider John the “last Levitical priest” who anoints the Melchizedekian High Priest, Jesus. Jesus did not get symbolic oil at a corrupt temple; He received the actual Spirit coming down as a dove. Because of this, “having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth” the Spirit on us (Acts 2:33). This is the meaning of the word, “Christ” (anointed), and it goes back to the event of Jesus’ baptism when He was anointed.
So do we “follow the Lord” in baptism? Only with this rich background in mind, can we now see how Christ’s baptism is a model for us. In our baptisms we are cleansed; there is a washing away of sin in the symbolism. We “cross” or “pass” into Christ, and we are clothed. In baptism, we gain a new status as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We are vested with the Spirit and called “sons/daughters” of God. Priestly ordination is a picture of the “royal priesthood” in Christ (1 Pet. 2:9). Our new identity is conferred in baptism, even as it was for Israel in the crossing of the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-4). This is all another way of saying what Paul states definitively. We are “all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).
A free conference on Five Views of Infants and Children in the Church, held at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, April 27, 2015, featuring speakers: Adam Harwood, Kevin Lawson, David Liberto, David Scaer, Jason Foster, Gregg Strawbridge, and Donna Peavey. See the flyer and schedule in the PDF below: